Australian women who had their underwear ripped off before enduring invasive genealogical exams in Qatar have demanded someone is held accountable for their horrific treatment, as the brave group reveal the harrowing details of the ordeal.
Thirteen innocent women were waiting on the tarmac on board a Sydney-bound Qatar Airlines flight from London on October 2 last year when their excruciating ordeal began.
Authorities in the hard line Islamic nation were hunting for the mother of a newly-born baby found alive in a bin at the Hamad International Airport.
Police and security personnel rounded up all women of childbearing age who were in the vicinity and subjected them to ‘humiliating’ and ‘traumatising’ medical exams.
No apology has ever been made and the victims but now they’re fighting back after their Middle East nightmare, taking the wealthy Persian Gulf state to court over its human rights violation.
CCTV footage released by local media showed first responders crowded around the baby (pictured) at Doha Airport
The ordeal began when a disturbing message came over the intercom on the flight, demanding that all women onboard disembark the plane with their passports.
The confused passengers, some of whom feared it was a terrorist incident, were then taken by guards on an elevator to awaiting ambulances – with no idea what was in store for them.
‘I thought we were going to be kidnapped or held as legal pawns. I feared we were going to be raped and that my child is going to be taken and that we will never see family again,’ a woman on board Flight 908 named Anna told 60 Minutes.
‘It was the scariest moment of my life.
‘I was crying and shaking and squeezing my baby. I didn’t want to get on an elevator with armed guards not knowing where we were going and where we were being taken.’
Once inside the ambulance a nurse briefly explained what was going on and told her to lay down on the bed.
Sophie (pictured on 60 Minutes) said the ordeal at the hands of Qatar authorities has been traumatising
Staff strip searched the women – who had been on a Qatar Airways flight – without their consent after allegedly discovering an abandoned baby in an airport bathroom
‘She grabbed under my pants and my underwear and she stripped them,’ Anna said.
‘It was a humiliation, an abuse of power and a breach of my human rights.’
‘No one is allowed to touch me, no one is allowed to strip me naked without my consent and that is what happened to me in a major airport, one of the biggest airports in the world with a major airline.’
Fellow passenger Sophie, who notified the Australian Federal Police when she arrived home, said the experience has left her traumatised.
‘I felt very angry and full of rage leaving the ambulance that I didn’t have a stronger voice that I allowed that to take place, that I didn’t protest enough. I felt powerless.’
Grandmother Kim Mills also recounted what happened inside the ambulance.
‘She told me to pull my pants down and that they needed to examine my vagina,’ the Australian woman told the Guardian.
‘I said, “I’m not doing that” and she did not explain anything to me. She just kept saying “we need to see it, we need to see it”.’
Don’t be fooled by the seeming modernity, glittering towers, conspicuous wealth and love of high-end western fashion brands – Qatar (pictured, Doha) is a hard line nation with restrictive laws for women
The woman said she tried to escape, but there was nowhere to run and she eventually relented.
‘I was panicking. Everyone had gone white and was shaking,’ she said.
Ms Mills said the women were then brought to an interview room and told to provide their flight information.
By the time she arrived back on the plane, she said her legs were ‘just wobbling’ and she asked why they weren’t told what was going on.
‘I can’t imagine what it was like for those poor young girls, it must have been horrendous,’ she said.
‘I’m a mother of three daughters and when I got back on the plane and reflected on it and thought, I am so glad it wasn’t any of my girls.’
Anna (pictured on 60 Minutes) said it was the scariest moment of her life when guards took her off the plane
Another young woman named Jane remembered thinking ‘this is bizarre, like why am I having to remove my pants?’ when ordered inside of the ambulance.
‘She said “I need to remove your underwear” and I said “I don’t feel comfortable with removing my underwear”.
‘I was physically holding them up and she said “no, no they need to come down”.’
‘I said “why, why?” and I was in shock. I remember laying there thinking this isn’t right, this isn’t how this should be happening. This isn’t how this should be done.’
Although there was a strong reaction from Qatar authorities at the time, no meaningful action has been taken over the mass assaults which were also carried out on an unknown number of women of other nationalities.
The Persian Gulf state blamed the entire incident on one guard who reportedly received a suspended sentence.
Kim Mills was on the Sydney-bound flight from Hamad International Airport (pictured) in Doha on October 2 when she was hauled off the plane with 13 other Australian women
The Australian government formally registered serious concerns with Qatari authorities but no meaningful action has been taken (pictured, Doha Airport)
Although the Qatar government initially called the incident ‘unacceptable’, they are yet to apologise to the women affected.
Qatar Airways have also failed to apologise to the victims, they say.
‘We were led into these ambulances with no choice, but we have a choice now and we are going to take action,’ Sophie said.
The group are now suing state-owned Qatar Airways and the Qatar Civil Aviation Authority accusing them of assault, battery and deprivation of liberty.
‘The incident was in breach of many international covenants and obviously in breach of human rights,’ the man heading up their legal battle, Damian Sturzaker from law firm Marque, said.
‘One can see it was a massive overreaction to the circumstances the airport authorities found themselves in. One certainly can’t ever imagine that happening at Mascot or Tullamarine (airports in Australia).
‘We want a reasonable outcome and for positive steps to be taken guarantee the safety of women and more generally people in general travelling through Doha.’
What you can and can’t do in Qatar – and what to do if you break the law
Many things are against the law in Qatar that are legal in Australia. Penalties include corporal punishment.
These include laws around eating and drinking, buying and drinking alcohol, intimacy and obscenity. Same-sex relationships are illegal, as are public displays of affection. Qatar has strict laws regarding imports.
If you’re detained or arrested, Qatari authorities may not notify the Australian Government. Ask police or prison officials to tell the Australian Embassy in Doha.
Don’t use or carry illegal drugs. Penalties for drug offences include long jail terms. Authorities can detain and deport you if you carry medication to treat HIV and hepatitis. This can also happen if you test positive to either illness.
If you’re involved in a commercial civil dispute, local firms or courts may take your passport. Authorities can stop you leaving Qatar until the dispute is resolved.
If you owe money, you may go to jail until you settle your debts. Qatar has strict fraud laws. Offences include presenting a cheque that bounces, and failing to pay loans, bills or fines. You could go to jail.
Sex outside of marriage is illegal. If you’re the victim of a sexual assault, authorities may arrest, detain or prosecute you for adultery. If you’re sexually assaulted in Qatar, ask for consular help.
Qatar has strict Islamic codes of dress and behaviour. Wear clothes that cover your shoulders and knees. If you’re at tourist attractions, shopping malls and other public places, check the specific dress codes at the venue or online.
Australian women take legal action after invasive vaginal exams at Qatar Airport in Doha